Athletics: Noguchi plans to put down another marker for Paula

The one prize Radcliffe does not own - and which she craves above all others - is the Olympic crown that disappeared from her horizon when Mizuki Noguchi left her suffering in the heat and humidity on the long climb up towards the outskirts of Athens last year.

While Radcliffe ground to a painful halt, three miles from the finish line, the diminutive Noguchi - all 4ft 11in and 6st 7lb of her - strode on to victory. Her place in the history books assured, as a winner on the course on which Spiridon Louis won the original marathon in the first Games of the modern Olympic era, the Japanese runner has been content to rest on her hard-won Athenian laurels for the past year and a month. Until this morning, that is.

It is fair to assume that Radcliffe's first act after completing her morning run in the French Pyrenees, as she works towards the Nike Run London 10km road race on 16 October, will be to hook up to the inter-net to discover how Noguchi has fared in the Berlin Marathon. Having conquered the heat, humidity and hills of Athens (thanks to a slight frame that was better suited to the conditions than Radcliffe's slender but significantly bigger 5ft 8in and 8st 7lb build, and thanks to a summer of hill-training at St Moritz), Noguchi will be chasing a fast time on a flat, big- city course for the first time since she rose to prominence with her silver-medal-winning run behind Kenya's Catherine Nderaba at the 2003 World Championships in Paris.

Radcliffe's world record, the 2hr 15min 25sec she clocked in London two years ago, would appear to be beyond reach, but in the context of a rivalry building towards the Beijing Olympic marathon in 2008 it will be intriguing to see if Noguchi can break through the 2hr 20min barrier and get near the Briton's world-leading time for 2005. At 27, Radcliffe's junior by four years, her personal best stands at 2hr 21min 18sec, dating back to the Osaka Women's Marathon in January 2003.

"I would like to get close to Paula's world record, but I need to do it step by step," Noguchi announced at her pre-race press conference. "It is a very, very strong record. My aim in Berlin is a Japanese record. The course is good for breaking it. It is flat and I will be running with three pacemakers. It will also be the first time I have run in a marathon with men in the field. I have only run in marathons for women so far."

It was in Berlin in 2001 that Noguchi's compatriot Naoko Takahashi became the first woman to break 2hr 20min for the marathon. The Olympic champion in Sydney in 2000, Takahashi clocked 2hr 19min 46sec in the German capital. In Berlin last year Yoko Shibui improved the Japanese record to 2:19:41, and that mark - plus the Asian record of 2:19:39, held by Yingjie Sun of China - would appear to be well within the grasp of Noguchi, who has again prepared assiduously at high altitude in Switzerland.

One of her training sessions in St Moritz comprised a staggering 45 repetitions of 400 metres on the track. "There were some men's runners from Europe watching me," Noguchi said. "They were convinced I was crazy."

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